When Alex Winter was 13, he watched Frank Zappa—guitar virtuoso, counterculture avatar, and beak-nosed provocateur behind such cult-classic, entirely uncategorizable albums as Hot Rats and Weasels Ripped My Flesh—host Saturday Night Live. The combination of rock’s gonzo satirist and television’s upstart sketch-comedy show seemed like a no-brainer. But Zappa’s October 1978 appearance was perhaps the biggest hosting debacle in the history of S.N.L., as the contrarian musician, true to form, refused to play by anyone’s rules but his own—calling attention to the cue cards, going out of his way to be terrible in a Coneheads sketch.

Winter was fascinated by this late-night-television train wreck, with Zappa as self-appointed Casey Jones. (For his efforts, or lack thereof, Zappa, who died in 1993, was banned from the show for life.) Recalling the occasion recently, Winter said, “I thought, There is so much more to this person than the weirdo who plays guitar.”